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We get a Blue Moon when there is a second full moon in one calendar month. That happens on Wednesday, January 31. But our Moon will also pass through the Earth’s shadow to give us a total lunar eclipse. And the triple play comes with this also being the third in a series of three straight full moon supermoons.

There will be another Blue Moon in 2018, and supermoons occur every few months. Eclipses are rarer, but the three occurring all at once is rarer still. This will be the first Blue Moon total eclipse in 150 years for the Americas.

The Moon will be entirely inside the Earth’s dark umbral shadow (totality) for a bit more than an hour.

The term Blue Moon still makes me think of the song “Blue Moon.” It is an oldie, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1934. Lots of singers and groups have recorded it (Billy Eckstine and Mel Tormé had early hits) and versions by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, The Mavericks, Dean Martin, The Supremes, Rod Stewart and even an adapted anthem version used by English Premier League football club Manchester City are out there.

But the recording that always pops into my head is the 1961 big hit for doo-wop group The Marcels.

The song pops up in one of my favorite horror-with-a-comedic-twist films, American Werewolf in London, which would be an excellent film to watch on Wednesday night.

If you are more of a listener than watcher, I suggest the film’s soundtrack which is full (no pun intended) of moon songs.

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We can refer to tonight’s February Full Moon as the Snow Moon, Ice Moon, Hunger Moon, Old, Storm or Grandfather Moon. Most names for the month refer to very wintery weather. Of course, if you’re in a warmer climate, they may seem inappropriate.

Tonight’s Full Moon also coincides with a penumbral lunar eclipse. They are not as spectacular or as noticeable as a total lunar eclipse. When the Moon moves through the outer part of Earth’s shadow (which is known as the penumbra), the shadow blocks part of the sun’s rays. Therefore, the Moon will only appear slightly darker than usual.

To Colonial Americans, this was the Trapper’s Moon or simply the Winter Moon.

Tonight’s Full Moon will fall on a snow-covered Paradelle, so the moonlight should be quite bright, even with that Earth shadow.

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We entered 2017 with a nice pairing of the planets of love and war in the sky. Venus and Mars were close together all through January. The Moon was right there too as the year began and it will work its way back to the planets – at least in our view – as the month ends January 31.

But the major astronomical event of 2017 will be a total solar eclipse. We have not had a total solar eclipse in the mainland U.S. since 1979.

It is two seasons away, but on August 21, 2017 the Moon will completely block the sun, and this solar eclipse can be seen across the United States.

But, you will have to be at the right place at the right time to see totality (when the sun is totally blocked by the moon). There is an area that is a narrow path about 75 miles wide between Oregon and South Carolina that will be prime viewing. You can view a detailed map of the eclipse online.  Perhaps, you should plan now for a little vacation in August to see the eclipse.

If that’s too far off to think about, or if you’re not ready to take an eclipse vacation, then here’s an alternative. On February 11, we will have a penumbral lunar eclipse. This is when the Moon enters the lighter shadow of the earth. But the effect is hard to notice and a lot less cool than the August event.

A total penumbral lunar eclipse dims the moon in direct proportion to the area of the Sun's disk blocked by the Earth. This comparison shows the southern shadow penumbral lunar eclipse of January 1999 (left) to the moon outside of the shadow (right) demonstrates this subtle dimming.

A total penumbral lunar eclipse dims the moon in direct proportion to the area of the Sun’s disk blocked by the Earth. This comparison shows the southern shadow penumbral lunar eclipse of January 1999 (left) to the moon outside of the shadow (right) demonstrates this subtle dimming.  Image via Wikipedia

 

 

If you’re in North America and the Pacific, you may be able to see a very subtle partial penumbral eclipse of the Moon on the morning of March 23, 2016.  Western North America has the eclipse taking place in its sky from start to finish. Look for the eclipse shortly before dawn breaks.

The Moon will look full tonight but it still is a waxing gibbous moon until it “officially” is full on March 23 at 12:01 Universal Time (8:01 a.m. EDT).

There are many names for the monthly Full Moons. I try to choose a new one each year and this time I selected the Earth Cracks Moon. That sounds rather ominous, but it only refers to the heaving soil as we transition into spring with cold nights and warm days. Another name – the Full Worm Moon – also refers to the thawing ground and the earthworm casts that can appear, which delights the robins.

Those names and the Full Crust Moon are all more common with Indian tribes than with the European settlers, though in northern climes all parties would have observed both natural occurrences. To the settlers, it was known by names such as the Lenten Moon and Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees.

Some northern tribes knew this as the Full Crow Moon, because the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter, but look at all the names I have uncovered for this winter-into-spring Full Moon:  Fish Moon, Medieval Chaste Moon, (Choctaw) Big Famine Moon,  (Cherokee) Windy Moon,  (Dakotah Sioux) Moon When Eyes Are Sore from Bright Snow, (Celtic) Moon of the Winds, Oak Moon, Storm Moon, Seed Moon, Maple Moon, Chaste Moon, Strong Wind Moon, Moon of Wakening, Light Snow Moon, Flower Time Moon, Cactus Blossom Moon, Rust Moon, Spring Moon, Whispering Wind Moon, Windy Moon, Death Moon, Sleepy Moon, and Big Famine Moon.

Partial phase of the April 14-15, 2014 total lunar eclipse – photo by Fred Espenak

As I wrote last weekend, there is a total eclipse of the moon tonight (September 27-28, 2015).  Being that it is also the closest of this year’s supermoons, there is more drama to the event. For those of us north of the equator, it is a Harvest Full Moon (the one nearest the autumn equinox). It is many named lunar events!

You might also hear the term “Blood Moon” used because this is the fourth and final eclipse in four straight total eclipses of the moon, spaced at six lunar months (full moons) apart. That is known as a lunar tetrad.

The total lunar eclipse is visible from the most of North America and all of South America after sunset tonight.

 

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I’m giving you a week’s notice. There are too many descriptors for this month’s Full Moon that will appear on Sunday, September 27.  Super Harvest Blood Full Moon Eclipse covers most of the lunar adjectives that will probably be in the media this week.

September’s Full Moon is often called the Harvest Moon, but it will be at perigee and that gets it the additional tag of being a closer “supermoon.” It will be the closest Full Moon of this year. There will also be a total eclipse of the Moon.

Some people will call this a Blood Moon eclipse. It concludes a series of four straight total lunar eclipses that started on April 15, 2014. In California and Washington State, with their unfortunate wildfires, the soot in the air might even make the lunar eclipse appear more violet than red.

The Harvest Moon is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. It is usually in September though it can be in October. This year the autumnal equinox was on Wednesday, September 23, so this Full Moon is just 4 days later.

The Harvest Moon is probably the most popular name for this Full Moon because it was the only one given the same name by both the English and by many American Indian tribes of eastern and northern North America.

Staples like corn, pumpkins, squash, beans and wild rice were typically ready for harvest by this Full Moon. Another name used by some tribes was the Corn Moon.

I did find other names for the September Full Moon, including the Wine Moon, the Singing Moon, the Gypsy Moon, the Barley Moon and the Elk Call Moon.

This Full Moon is often though of and portrayed in pictures as being orange or red-tinged moon which seems appropriate to the autumn color palette. But any special effects have to do with the seasonal tilt of the earth. The warm color of the moon shortly after it rises is an optical illusion, based on the fact that when the moon is low in the sky, you are looking at it through a greater amount of atmospheric particles (including pollution and smoke) than when the moon is overhead. Those particles scatter the blue part of the light spectrum but allows the reddish component of the light to travel a straighter path to your eyes.

All celestial bodies look reddish when they are low in the sky. We also like to portray moonlight as blue in art, photography and films which comes from the reflected white light from the sun.

And although the size of the Moon never changes, it will be closer this weekend, and the human eye perceives a low-hanging moon to be larger than one that’s high in the sky. If you want the full effect of this Full Moon illusion, look at it when it is low in the sky.

And hello to our southern hemisphere friends! Remember that the Full Moons of September, October and November as seen from the northern hemisphere correspond to the full moons of March, April and May as seen from the southern hemisphere, and aw we enter the autumn equinox later this week, they enter spring.

 

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